Detached constructions in written texts: some examples

Im Dokument MARRI AMON Initial and final detachments in spoken Estonian: a study in the framework of Information Structuring (Seite 87-94)


6.1. Detachment constructions as a universal in unplanned discourse:

6.1.3. Detached constructions in written texts: some examples

some examples from Estonian

Although in the present thesis the object of study, detachment constructions, is examined in oral language, where it occurs most often, it could be interesting to reflect briefly on the occurrence of these constituents in written texts, which would give some clues about their grammaticalization, coding and acceptability in different contexts. As a more detailed treatment goes beyond the scope of this study, I propose only a very brief overview and some perspectives.

I have done no systematic research on written corpora in order to collect a representative amount of examples, the occurrences having been assembled during the preparation of the present thesis, in a quite subjective manner, in different written media such as newspaper articles (paper and online pub-lications), readers’ comments to web publications, Internet forums, but also original fiction texts. Due to the non-coherent way of collecting the examples, I can not draw any far-reaching conclusions about their frequency or preferential contexts of occurrence. Nevertheless, based on the assessment of the collected examples and their sources, their occurrence of course confirms some general principles which seem to be valid cross-linguistically: the frequency of detach-ment constructions raises significantly as soon as the register used approaches more informal registers. There are some rare examples in fiction novels (dialogues or narrative parts) or in journalistic texts (referring to a person’s speech, quoting his/her words), but much more occurrences can be found in web forums, chat rooms and the comments of users on different websites, newspapers for instance. In these environments the speakers/authors use several other features that balance the restriction of not being able to see/hear the other participants and bring the text closer to spontaneous oral speech (through lexical, syntactic, typographical means). I assume that the use of detachment constructions also forms one of these markers which can be used more or less intentionally (we find here again the question of the ‘planning’ of the discourse, but here the question is about a written text which is a kind of intermediate genre between oral speech and the written text).


Following my subjective assessment, compared to initial detachments, final detachments tend to be less visible in written texts in Estonian. This can partly be attributed to their different discourse functions (it is easier to follow a text where the full lexical element is given first) and also to the written coding of these constructions, as they can occur in another sentence, separated by punctuation marks other than a comma, and therefore be less easily identifiable.

However, it seems that in translated texts these constituents occur more often, which means that they are acceptable in Estonian, easy to adapt to Estonian syntax, but the translators are probably not conscious of their stylistic or other effects and functions, and it can also be assumed that they do not necessarily take into account the stylistic and pragmatic coherence at the discourse level, but rather work on the sentence basis. Consequently, it is plausible to consider that a translation corpus would not be representative of the use of this construction in Estonian – it shows only what is possible, but does not allow any conclusions to be drawn about their real functioning in language. That is why we only present examples that are produced in the original Estonian (non-translated).

Another easily accessible resource is language production on the Internet and different media (discussion boards, comments, etc.). This is today a hybrid genre where traditional spelling rules are not respected and where one clearly finds more features that are typical to oral language.

Let us first consider some examples of final detachments from discussion boards.


Ma olen emale kirjutanud taolise kirja ja palju enamgi veel. Mitte midagi.

Tundus, et see hoopis vihastas teda, see minu kiri.

‘I have written such a letter to my mother and much more. Nothing. It seemed rather that it made her angry, this letter of mine.’

(PK 30/08/2012)

In this sequence the first see ‘it’ can be more generally interpreted (the fact of writing a letter) before the detached NP is added which specifies the referent. In addition, here, the question of intentionality or planning arises – the author could also use the nominal element in the main clause, but the solution chosen here has probably to do with the general strategy in the discourse: the information in the main clause is on the foreground and in this construction the accented part of it is more salient when compared to a less segmented sentence (see kiri hoopis vihastas teda).


Minu poiss ütles, et ka nende klassis oli tema eelkooli klassikaaslane nutma hakanud - lapse asi, võõrad õpetajad ja teistsugune olukord, lapsele tekitas see kõik stressi. Ma ei usu, et see ülesannete pärast juhtus, see nutu asi.


‘My son told that in their class also one of his classmates in preschool course began to cry – typical for a child, unfamiliar teachers and a different situation, all this caused stress for the child. I don’t believe that it happened because of the exercises, this crying thing.’

(PK 09/02/2013)

In this example from the same Internet forum one can see the similar tendency – the final detachment specifies the exact reference of the general pronoun see.

The referent of the lexical element is presented as somewhat vague (see nutu asi, ‘this crying thing’), but probably considered as necessary, because of another possible referent (stress).

This type of example seems to follow quite a general pattern – in principle, the written text can be planned in a way that those quite lengthy constructions can be avoided. However, the written text on a forum page cannot quite be compared with any other (more formal) written text – there are certainly degrees as to their ‘orality’ or informal character, which means that probably the forum posts and web comments show more constructions typical to oral language, and chat room discussions and other real-time web discussions are even more oral-like than forum posts, etc.

As I have implied above, in written texts the initial detachments tend to be more frequent and more easily identifiable, compared to final detachments.

Their use is probably also more marked due to the fact that final detachments can be related to different phenomena of rightward extension-like afterthoughts, repairs, additions, etc., whereas initial detachments do not have this type of variation. One subtype of initial detachments that could be identified in the oral corpus (detached constituent followed by a relative clause) is also present in written texts.

The following examples have been chosen in order to represent the main types of occurrences:

Example (31) comes from a novel: it displays a monological excerpt where the main character, Melchior, is giving the denouement of the story.


Kes oli see, kes raius tal maha pea ja toppis suhu mündi, Gotlandi vana ortugi.

See Gotlandi vana münt, see ei andnud mulle hetkekski asu.

‘Who was that who chopped off his head and stuffed a coin in his mouth, an old Gotland ørtug. This old coin of Gotland, it did not leave me at peace in any moment.’18

(I. Hargla The mystery of St Olaf )

18 Here, the translation is literal; see the discussion about the published translation in section 6.1.4.


In fictional texts one can also consider the stylistic effects of this type of construction: the narrator is explaining at the end of the story how he found the solution to the mystery and the detachment construction creates here a kind of redundancy or repetition which could be seen as a figurative parallel to his long reasoning process, which takes place throughout the whole story. This can also be related to McLaughlin’s findings, based on the suggestions of Marnette (2005: 50–63) that showed detachment constructions occurring in excerpts illustrating the inner speech of the narrator (McLaughlin 2011: 226). This interpretation is also supported by the absence of a question mark in the first sentence, which lexically and grammatically is obviously an interrogative sentence.

Example (32) is a reader’s comment to a newspaper article. The punctuation has not been changed, some spaces have been added or erased for better lisibility. We can see that the author respects the punctuation of written language, using emoticons at the same time; the sentence is quite complex, with several levels of subordinates, and consequently the insertion of the pronoun contributes to the clarity of the sentence.


See hetk, mil telerist näidati hiina sportlast, kes endale tuhka pähe raputades nuttis ja rahvalt andestust palus (et oli Hiinat hullult maailma ees häbistanud:), kuna ta võitis olümpial HÕBEMEDALI mitte kulla:), see ei taha kuidagi meelest minna.

‘This moment when they showed on the TV a Chinese sportsman who cried sprinkling ashes on his head and asked forgiveness from his people (because of having brought shame on China before the whole world :), because he won a SILVER MEDAL at the olympics (not a gold :), this I can hardly forget.’

(EPL Online 21.08.2012 comment about ‘Graafik: Eesti on IQ tasemelt maailmas 15.kohal’)

Since the thematic part of this utterance is quite long, the resumptive pronoun see receives a rather more general reading, which encompasses the preceding subordinates and leaves the first NP see hetk in the background.

In the next example (33), a web comment, we can see a pronominal detachment which is resumed in the object role in the main clause. Pronominal detachments occur almost exclusively in utterances where the pronoun is specified by a relative clause. In other cases, the longer stressed form of pronoun is used instead of a detachment construction.


Poisid on aktiivsemad, püsimatud. Õpetajatel on nende ohjeldamisega probleeme, ei tohi ju kurjema pilguga kah otsa vaadata. Tekib karistamatuse tunne! Pubeka eas ei mõelda ju kaugema tuleviku peale, kui nädalavahetus ja pidu. Lastakse lõdvaks ja pärast, kui aru pähe tuleb, on juba liiga raske tagasi


järje peale saada. Need, kes on korralikud ja tahavad õppida, neid kiusatakse ja nende elu tehakse põrguks.

‘The boys are more active, restless. The teachers have difficulties in containing them, they don’t have the right even to look at them severely. They get the sense of impunity! The teenagers don’t think any further ahead than the weekend and party. They stop putting in any effort and later when they recover their senses, it is too difficult to get back on the right path. Those who are well-behaved and want to learn, they are being bullied and their life is made hell.’

(EPL 31.08.2012 comment about ‘Poiss ei taha kooli minna, milles asi’)

The following examples show the diversity of possible resumptive elements. In the three following sequences the initial detachment is specified by a relative clause; this pattern seems to be quite frequent in certain types of written texts where the ‘correctness’ of grammatical constructions can be overlooked and thus the repetition of the resumptive word after the relative does not constitute a stylistic error.

Example (34) is another occurrence of detached pronominal, resumed by a pronoun in adessive case.


Ma ei saa isegi sekretäriks minna, sest ma ei oska seda tööd. Nõutakse ju kogemusega või vähemalt vastava haridusega inimesi. Need, kes koolid alles lõpetanud, neil ongi kerge tööle saada.

‘I can’t even become a secretary, because I can’t do this work. Experience or at least the appropriate education is needed. Those who have just finished their studies, they can find a job more easily.’

(PK 14/09/2012)

Another typical example is (35) where the resumptive element is the locative proadverb seal.


Peame arvestama, et need ühiskonnad, mis on demokraatias elanud palju kauem, seal on õige ja vale eristamine märksa kategoorilisem ja selgem.

‘We have to understand that those societies that have lived in democracy much longer, there is a much more categoric and clear distinction between right and wrong.’

(Postimees Online 28.03.2013 P. Kivine ‘Veerpalu kahe tooli vahel’)

In the web comment given in example (36) we can see a typical referential adjustment made possible by the detachment construction process that fa-cilitates the elaboration and the treatment of the information. The detached element is a substantivized adjective minusugused (‘people like me’): it is specified by a relative clause (‘who need more detailed explanations’) and


resumed by the postpositional phrase meie peale (‘on us’). The examples 33–36 all contain contrasted elements which are probably one of the reasons for using detached constructions.


Meie koolides ei ole mõtlemine ja loomingulisus au sees, tähtis on töö ära vastata, reaalsete teadmiste omandamine ei huvita kedagi. Kellel reaalainete peale taipu, neil pole probleemi, aga minusugused, kes vajaksid veidi detailsemat asjasse süvenemist, meie peale ei viitsi keegi aega raisata.

‘In our schools, thinking and creativity are not esteemed, it is important to pass the test, but acquiring real knowledge does not interest anyone. Those who are good in science, they don’t have problems, but those like me, who would need a more detailed insight, nobody wants to waste time with us.’

(Postimees Online, 26.09.2012 comment about the article of M. Hallik ‘Milleks meile matemaatika?’)

Another occurrence in example (37) comes from a newspaper text about the process of the making of a film about twenty years before; the text refers to the words of the director of the film, without however making further comments about the original interview or conversation. This results in a sentence which contains several features typical to oral and informal language, and from the stylistic point of view is even somewhat striking, as this sentence is the only one where the words of the person are referred to – elsewhere he is quoted directly and in consequence the orality markers are not as salient as here.


Ulfsak meenutab, et filmi ettevalmistamist alustasid nad rubla ajal, ja neid nagu natuke oli, aga võtete ajaks oli rahareform toimunud ning kroone, neid ei olnud nagu enam üldse.

‘Ulfsak recalls that the preparation of the film began at the time of the rouble, and them they did have to some extent, but at the time of shooting the monetary reform had taken place, and the crowns, them there were no more at all.’

(Eesti Ekspress, 03.10.2013)

In this sentence there are two parallel, contrastive elements from which the second occurs in a detachment-like construction. This is not however a typical detachment, as the lexical item (kroone) is not in the nominative, but in the partitive like the resumptive word. This example still illustrates the general context of occurrence of such borderline constructions, where the main characteristics are the proximity with orality, other features typical to informal speech (the repetition of the mitigating particle nagu), and the segmentation of information which is also typical for oral language etc.

The last example (38) comes from a newspaper interview with the Estonian writer Andrus Kivirähk; the whole text contains different markers of orality


which can to some extent be related to the image of this media personality (a witty humorist, close to the ‘ordinary’ people). The markers of orality can also be identified in this excerpt (jah, seal Prantsusmaal, see tähendab), in addition to some lexical elements which refer to the non-formal use of language (the verb viitsima ‘to bother’, the adjective phrase vähe igavad ‘a bit boring’).

Also in this example two elements are opposed in the last utterance – the fact of going to France on the one hand and of making a presentation on the other.


‘Ussisõnad’ … jah olla seal Prantsusmaal üllatavalt menukad, lähengi järgmisel nädalal seda esitlema. Ausalt öeldes eriti ei viitsiks, see tähendab, Prantsusmaale sõidaks muidugi hea meelega, aga need esitlused, need on vähe igavad.

‘“The man who spoke snakish” … yes, is in France apparently surprisingly successful, I will be going to present it next week. To be honest, I don’t feel like doing it, that is, to France I would go willingly, but these presentations, they are a little bit boring.’

(Maaleht, 11.04.2013)

In conclusion, it can be said that the initial detached construction occurs in written language, as expected, more frequently in language uses that are closer to oral language. However, in some cases we can see that this is not the case, especially no other marker of ‘orality’ is obviously used, which demonstrates that the only and unique reason for using this construction is not to convey the

‘orality’. This aspect will be developed somewhat further in the next section dedicated to the stylistic and rhetoric effects of detached constructions. These utterances can often be seen to contain contrasted or opposed elements.

These constructions adapt well to the so-called hybrid genres, on the Internet, for example, where it is possible to compose quite long sentences, combine different detached constructions within them and at the same time use devices that are typical of the informal communication in these media, such as emoticons. Another clearly distinct type is a detachment construction followed by a relative clause: in these cases, the use of the resumptive pronoun contributes to ‘track’ the reference, as the relative clause can be quite long and therefore the initial referent not so easy to identify. Depending on the type of text and genre, it seems that the detached constructions followed by the relative clause (and the resumptive pronoun in the main clause) can also be acceptable in more formal genres, but so far I tend to assume that in very formal language use they are considered redundant. This aspect merits a more thorough analysis.


6.1.4. Rhetorical and stylistic effects of detached constructions

Im Dokument MARRI AMON Initial and final detachments in spoken Estonian: a study in the framework of Information Structuring (Seite 87-94)